High School Sports

San Luis Obispo wins girls volleyball playoff thriller

San Luis Obispo High’s Elizabeth Culpepper hits over West Ranch’s Bree Braucher (11) and Tani Slauson (7) during Tuesday’s playoff match at San Luis Obispo.
San Luis Obispo High’s Elizabeth Culpepper hits over West Ranch’s Bree Braucher (11) and Tani Slauson (7) during Tuesday’s playoff match at San Luis Obispo. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

It already had been a memorable season for the San Luis Obispo High girls volleyball team. Tuesday night just made it a little more special.

The Tigers won their first CIF-Southern Section playoff match in five years, edging West Ranch of Valencia in five sets, 21-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-23, 15-9 in the opening round of the Division 1-A postseason.

“It feels really good just because it hasn’t been done in a long time,” San Luis Obispo opposite Elizabeth Culpepper said of the comeback. “We just pushed through, and I think we just kept our minds really clear and worked hard.”

In the fourth game, the Tigers gave up four straight points that cut their lead to 24-23, but they quickly forced the fifth game after a timeout.

Then, San Luis Obispo scored the final six points in the decisive set, as Alex Attala and Arika Johnson combined on a block to end the match.

“For them to stay focused the whole match, especially after it was so back-and-forth, I’m extremely proud,” Tigers coach Manny Carter said. “They’ve worked hard this whole year, and they deserve to be where they’re at right now.

“We’ve got players who want to play every point of the match,” he added.

Culpepper led the Tigers (25-6) with 21 kills, helped by Beth Hoyt’s 18 kills and 27 digs. Linnea Ramirez had 26 digs in the win, while Kennedy Peters distributed 54 assists.

San Luis Obispo advanced to face Redlands East Valley, the Citrus Belt League champion, which routed Alta Loma 25-12, 25-13, 25-16 on Tuesday. The division’s No. 2 overall seed, the Wildcats (26-4) entered the playoffs ranked No. 28 in the nation by ESPN RISE and are led by Krista Vansant, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter who has committed to Washington.

As a whole, San Luis Obispo’s season has been marked by resiliency. Just before the start of the second round of PAC 7 play, the Tigers lost Jessica Chellsen, who had been leading the team in kills, to a season-ending leg injury. But not long afterward, they came up with a key sweep of fellow contender Paso Robles that ultimately split the league title between the two schools with 10-2 records, with San Luis Obispo earning the PAC 7’s No. 1 playoff seed.

“It was really tough losing Jessica,” Culpepper said, “but I think that once we got used to not having her, we got even closer, because we were really a close-knit team to begin with. We’re pretty much family.”

The share of the PAC 7 championship was the Tigers’ first since 2005, led by two-time San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year and current Middle Tennessee sophomore Ashley Adams.

This year’s Tigers don’t have any league leaders in main statistical categories, but have several players among the top five in each.

“We’re deep,” Carter said. “We have a group where we don’t have to rely on any one person.”